Finding Yourself by Growing a Winter Vegetable Garden


Finding Yourself by Growing a Winter Vegetable Garden

It is possible to plant and grow many seeds during the winter. Certain vegetables and winter flowers are perfectly cold-hardy and will thrive in lower temperatures and snowy conditions.

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss


A winter garden is a magical place. Silence and stillness combine with aliveness and are juxtaposed against the outside cold and the warmth of vivid beams of sunlight. Let go of your thoughts and engage in what is around you – see that life is happening that has nothing to do with you.

The Garden of Eden symbolizes a space of perfect harmony. This place in which happiness reigns was not created for God himself but for mankind. Gardens are His gift to humanity, imagined by Him as the zenith of creation.

A garden is a metaphorical neighborhood, at its best when plants are grouped with others and given space to be themselves. Gardens are images of the soul and innocence. They hold the meaning of happiness, salvation, and purity. Wherever your garden starts, know that it is a personal paradise – a sanctuary, a place for the growth of your inner Self.

Writer and poet Andrew Marvell believed in the superiority of a contemplative life over a life of action. A garden offers quiet and repose; and here one can enjoy the pleasures of the mind and soul as well as the pleasures of the senses. Marvell felt true contemplation could only be found under the shade of a tree in a garden. Feel free to follow Marvell’s lead but make sure you get on your knees and till and harvest your garden – this work can be fun.

Seeds can sprout from almost anywhere. Drop a seed in the soil and watch it grow. A garden is a safe enclosure, and it represents fertility. You nurture plants, feed them, and watch over them. Gardens symbolize consciousness because of their enclosed characteristics, as opposed to the random, unconscious forest. In this same way, your garden needs to have order and thoughtfulness from the start.


A Winter Garden Begins - with a thoughtful idea

Your garden might surprise you by attracting things unexpected. A holistic garden is the coming together of gardeners, plants, animals, and the environment all interacting to create something more significant than the sum of its parts. It's more than you and your needs; a holistic garden ensures your creation is beneficial for all forms of life that surround it.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk offers this observation: “When we look deeply at a flower, we can see the non-flower elements that help it to manifest – the clouds, the earth, the gardener, and the soil.” There are many helpers involved in bringing your seeds to life.

In a spiritual sense, gardens show us that from death comes new life and hope. Planting, weeding, and gardening bestow the gifts of joy, quiet time, and contemplation. Gardening strengthens your spiritual health.



Gardens - good for your soul offering lessons to be learned

Gardens help you appreciate that any process in life takes time – growth takes time. Be patient and wait for it – and you will see it happen. In a garden, you can be yourself. You can slow down and get out of your head. From there, you can be open to change. Working in a garden will show you how to find life - in death.

Keep these seven lessons in mind while gardening and know that everything will be okay. 

  • Nature is therapeutic
  • You need the right environment to thrive
  • Learn, then learn some more
  • Growth takes time
  • Nourishment should be continuous
  • Don't ever give up
  • Victories don't come by accident



Why Gardens and the Soil Make Us Happy

Serotonin low? Rethink taking Zoloft and get into your garden. Science tells us that soil microbes are imbued with natural antidepressant-like powers that cause cytokine levels to rise. Cytokines are part of a chain reaction, which is the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which helps with memory and mood regulation. Most of your serotonin is found in the gut, where it promotes healthy digestion. It also helps with sleep, blood clotting, and bone health.

A strain of bacterium found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, is the substance found to affect neurons in much the same way that Prozac does. It triggers the release of serotonin which elevates mood and decreases anxiety. M. vaccae is being explored to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Crohn's disease.

Gardeners have lower stress, better concentration, and increased cognitive ability. All that without chemical dependency and side effects. Female gardeners also called gardenerettes or garden gals, have many reasons to root around in the soil and even let their children play outdoors.

Ancient healers knew what worked to help mental and emotional afflictions, but they did not know why or how. Science now is finding previously unknown remedies from medicinal plants and practices proving the link between human health and soil microbes.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, and meditation all have mood-boosting effects, including relieving stress, promoting a positive outlook on life, and increasing serotonin levels. Simply being in nature is therapeutic, but actively connecting with it through gardening is value-added. Planting and tending to a garden provide so many restorative health benefits that it's worth giving a try.

A garden is a refreshingly honest place where you can let down your guard and be yourself. Gardening will make you happier and more relaxed. Start by putting your hands in the soil.


Choosing What to Plant

Easy-to-build greeneries, raised garden beds, and cold frames can find a home in your backyard. They will save you money on groceries and require little maintenance. While the sunshine might be limited and the temperatures drop, a winter garden of cold-weather flowers and vegetables is functional and beautiful.



The first thing to decide is what to plant. In a beginner's vegetable garden, it's best to start small. Before picking out plants, consider ease of care, budget, aesthetics, size, and compatibility with neighboring plants.

Vegetables need high-quality soil and fertilizer. To get the ground ready to grow your plants, you may need to add sandy soil, peat moss, compost, and manure.

A garden for a family of four, about 10 feet by 10 feet, will require a cubic yard of soil and fertilizer. Get the pH of your soil tested to ensure an optimal growing environment. You can buy enough topsoil for less than $100.

The gardening season is never over despite the chill in the air found in most parts of the country in winter. Perennials, annuals, and shrubs bloom in the coldest months of the year, even when there is still snow on the ground. Check your USDA Hardiness zone where you live to ensure the survival of the plants and flowers you've chosen. USDA hardiness zones are based on average winter temperatures. These growing zones are the standard for knowing what will be productive in your growing location.

With some planning, you can enjoy bright spots of color this winter when you need it the most.

If it's blooming flowers you are after - try any of these six everyday winter florals. Experimentation is key to discovering which flowering plants might work the best in your garden


  • Asters – a fall-blooming herb with daisy-like flowers. It is known as The September birth flower. Asters stand for wisdom, faith, and valor.
  • Chrysanthemums – also known as mums, is a flowering herbaceous plant. It grows best in northern gardens and will survive the winter when mulched but not cut back. Mums are toxic to pets, especially dogs, cats, and horses. White chrysanthemums symbolize loyalty and devoted love.
  • Helleborus - these evergreen perennials bloom from late winter through spring, even in the presence of snow. Hellebores have a bitter, unpleasant taste and a nasty odor, so your dog will probably stay away. They are toxic to animals causing reactions from mild to severe.
  • Cyclamen - September is the best month for planting this flower. Cyclamens are surprisingly hardy with foliage that is very cold tolerant.
  • Winter jasmine - flowering jasmine is a popular climbing plant. It is easy to grow and flowers from November to March. It will climb and can also tumble over a wall. This winter variety always flowers yellow.
  • Pansies - planting these flowers in September and early October will give pansies the best chance to grow sturdy roots and flowers. Pansies are surprisingly hearty in cold weather and will survive a frost, bouncing back from single-digit temperatures.


Growing vegetables is a good investment that saves money – big money. Even the most minor backyard plot can produce a bounty of vegetables.

A 20-foot-by-30-foot production garden assuming 8-foot-long raised beds planted in rows would yield 350 pounds of vegetables. According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), an average investment of $70 can yield $600 worth of fresh produce.

Don’t let winter chills deter you as October sets in - there are many vegetables that are perfect to grow if you keep a few things in mind. Fall in October can usher in an early frost, so shield outdoor crops with cloches, tents, fleeces, and cold frames.

Winter is a Prime Time for Growing Vegetables - try these kitchen crops:


Beet varieties: Winterkeeper and Albina verduna

Broccoli varieties: Purple Sprouting, White sprouting late, and Rudolph

Brussels Sprouts varieties: Jade Cross E, Lunet, Oliver, and Red Rubine

Cabbage varieties: Danish Ballhead, Excel, Gloria, Melissa, and Zerlina

Carrot varieties: Bolero, Merida, and Royal Chantenay

Cauliflower varieties: Snow Crown and Snowball

Celery variety: Utah Improved

Fava Bean varieties: Aquadulce and sweet Lorane

Leeks varieties: Durabel, Alaska, Goliath, Siberia, and Mekwina

Lettuce, leaf varieties: Winter Density, Oak Leaf, Top Gun, and Merveille des Quatre Saisons

Radishes varieties: White Long and China Rose

Swiss Chard varieties: Perpetual, Dorat, and Ruby Red




First Step - find a spot for your garden

Find a modest plot of south-facing land that is protected from the wind. This location should get as much sun exposure as possible on short winter days. A spot underneath a deck or at the side of your home will work best to keep the garden warm when the temperatures tumble. Avoid putting your garden beds in places where they will be battered by cold east winds. 

You can surround your garden plot with a makeshift barrier using hoop houses, cold frames, a trellis, or hay bales. Plant your garden in a place located at the top of a slope as opposed to the bottom. Frost comes early to the bottom of slopes.


Second Step - create a base

Gather up any leaves and mow the lawn before you begin. Be sure to thoroughly remove aggressive weeds, too. Create a base for the garden that keeps rodents and insects at bay. Do this even though pests tend to be dormant in cold weather.


Third Step - feed the soil

To make soil optimal for gardening, compost or composted manure should be added to improve the structure and overall health of the earth.

Fertilizers are used to improve plant growth and are intended to feed plants instead of the soil. They are concentrated sources of plant nutrients in chemical or organic form. Most fertilizers are based on three plant nutrients: Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). Packaging will display a N:P:K ratio such as 20:20:20, for example, indicating a balanced fertilizer. 

Spent mushroom compost, poultry manure, seaweed, well-rotted manure, and garden compost are organic sources. These are good for plant structure and fertility but tend to have lower concentrations of nutrients.


Fourth Step - mark the soil for each plant

Your soil is tilled, tested, fertilized, and ready for planting, so what now? Plant spacing and planning. Plants need different volumes of space to yield good amounts of vegetables.

Plant spacing is vitally important and doing it correctly will:


  • Reduce competition for the sunlight
  • Conserve water by keeping the soil around the plants shaded
  • Ensure each plant gets adequate nutrients
  • Reduce the amount of space for weeds


Use stakes to mark where each plant will go. They should be located 6 to 8 inches away from each other - you do not want your plants to struggle for nutrients. And overcrowding will cast shade from one plant to another. All plants need sunlight shining on their leaves and stalks.


Fifth Step - put your hands in the soil

Use a small shovel to dig a hole into the ground, about 6 inches deep. Start digging before the first frost of the year. Drop your seeds into each hole and cover them with the left-over soil.




Sixth Step - protection of your crops

Winter gardens can be protected by mulch, a mini tunnel, or a cold frame, even if it is snowing.

Add about 3 inches of mulch around the whole area. Doing this will fertilize your garden, conserve rainwater, and keep the soil warm during those cold days. You can also use shredded newspaper, sawdust, bark, or peat moss to achieve the same results.

Mulch is a multipurpose essential with several benefits but only if used correctly. It helps the soil and encourages plant health by protecting roots. Heat and cold, soil erosion and soil compaction are threats to roots and plants that can be defused by mulching. It also does a good job of suppressing weeds saving you much work. Mulch needs to be refreshed in spring and fall. Please note these three dangers in using mulch:


  • Mulch can be flammable – use fire-resistant options that are inorganic like decomposed granite, rocks, and gravel.
  • Mulch can be toxic – cocoa shells, rubber mulch, the remains of black walnut trees, and dyed mulch (especially the trendy black stuff) can be very toxic to plants, dogs, earthworms, beneficial insects, good soil bacteria, people, and other animals.
  • Mulch can be installed wrong – to be effective mulch needs to be two to four inches deep. Weed the area as best as possible first. Try using permeable weed cloth before applying mulch. This is best for larger, unplanted areas.


Season Extenders

A season extender is a method of protecting plants from cold, wet weather. Cold frames, for example, collect solar heat via plastic, translucent coverings, or glass. This serves to warm the soil while also blocking winds and soaking rains. 

Here are some typical Season Extenders


Low tunnels
High tunnels
Cold frames


Seventh Step - check the soil weekly for dryness

Water plants as frequently as you would during the spring and summer months. Ensure the ground is kept moist, as dry soil will not allow for the plant's survival.

Plants are permanently rooted to one spot unless we move them. They must adapt and thrive or wither and die. In natural settings, plants are utterly at the mercy of environmental factors. The plants growing in your backyard garden must trust their human caretakers to provide sun, soil, water, and nutrients if they are to survive.

Plants are living, dynamic, and ever evolving. Like caring for a growing child, you must keep your eyes peeled for changing weather conditions.


Final Step – enjoy yourself and your bounty!

There are good reasons for planting a late fall garden. Quite a few vegetables can thrive all winter long. This hardiness promises an earlier crop than if you planted in the spring. Leafy greens should be ready to harvest in late winter, while the rest of the vegetables (if started from seed) will be ready to harvest in late spring.

Growing any of the following vegetables yourself makes for nutritious, gratifying, and inexpensive eating. Enjoy your kale, spinach, peas, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, radishes, and kohlrabi. They can all sustain winter, even if it is snowing, and provide nourishment in the coldest months.

Whether a gardening novice or green-thumb enthusiast, cultivating a garden that can endure fall and winter temperatures is rewarding and provides an enriching pastime.



"…in seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy."
English poet and painter William Blake




© 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.